Length of Limitations Period
Current federal law contains a single statute prescribing a general period of limitations, as well as several statutes that provide longer periods for specific offenses.
Section 3282 of Title 18, United States Code, is the statute of general application. It states that, "(e)xcept as otherwise expressly provided by law," a prosecution for a non-capital offense shall be instituted within five years after the offense was committed.
Section 3281 of Title 18 deals with capital offenses and provides that an indictment for an offense "punishable by death" may be filed at any time. Despite the invalidity of some former federal statutory death penalty provisions, it is arguable that the unlimited time period remains applicable to those statutes that formerly carried that penalty. See United States v. Helmich, 521 F. Supp. 1246 (M.D.Fla. 1981), aff'd on other grounds, 704 F.2d 547 (11th Cir. 1983); see Matter of Extradition of Kraiselburd, 786 F.2d 1395 (9th Cir. 1986).
Section 3286 of Title 18, United States Code, provides for an eight (8) year statute of limitations for the non-capital offenses under certain terrorism offenses. These offenses include: 18 U.S.C. §§ 32 (aircraft destruction), 37 (airport violence), 112 (assaults upon diplomats and internationally protected persons), 351 (violent crimes against Congresspersons or Cabinet officers), 1116 (murder of diplomats and internationally protected persons), 1203 (hostage taking), 1361 (willful injury to government property), 1751 (violent crimes against the President), 2280 (maritime violence), 2281 (maritime platform violence), 2332 (terrorist acts abroad against United States nationals), 2332a (use of weapons of mass destruction), 2332b (acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries), or 2340A (torture) or 49 U.S.C. §§ 46502 (aircraft piracy), 46504 (interference with flight crew), 46505 (carrying a weapon or explosive on an aircraft), or 46506 (certain crimes committed aboard an aircraft). Section 3286 first became effective on September 13, 1994, and was applicable to any relevant offense committed on or after September 15, 1989. In 1996, the new 18 U.S.C. § 2332b was added to the statute.
Section 3293 of Title 18, United States Code, provides for a ten (10) year statute of limitations for certain financial institution offenses which involve violations of, or conspiracy to violate, (1) 18 U.S.C. §§ 215, 656, 657, 1005, 1006, 1007, 1014, 1033, or 1344; (2) 18 U.S.C. §§ 1342 or 1343 if the offense affects a financial institution; or (3) 18 U.S.C. § 1963 to the extent that the racketeering activity involves a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344.
Section 3294 of Title 18, United States Code, provides a twenty (20) year statute of limitations for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 668 involving the theft of major art work.
Section 3295 of Title 18, United States Code, which was enacted on April 24, 1996, provides for a 10 year statute of limitations for certain non-capital arson or use-of-explosives offenses under 18 U.S.C. §§ 81 or 844(f), (h), or (i). (Section 844(i) had a seven year statute of limitations period for offenses committed on or after September 13, 1989, but before April 24, 1996.) See this Manual at 1445.
A one year statute of limitations is provided for criminal contempt under 18 U.S.C. § 402 (see 18 U.S.C. § 3285).
Section 507(a) of Title 17 provides that no criminal proceeding shall be maintained under Title 17 (relating to copyrights) unless commenced within three years after the cause of action arose.
Section 6531 of Title 26 provides that prosecutions for violation of the internal revenue laws shall be commenced within three years after commission of the offense, except for eight enumerated categories of offenses as to which a six-year limitations period is made applicable. See this Manual at 658.
Section 3291 of Title 18 provides that prosecutions for violations of nationality, citizenship, and passport laws, or a conspiracy to violate such laws, shall be commenced within ten years after the commission of the offense. Section 19 of the Internal Security Act of 1950, 64 Stat. 1005, provides a ten-year limitations period for prosecutions under the espionage statutes, 18 U.S.C. Secs. 792 to 794.
Section 2278 of Title 42 provides a similar ten-year period for prosecution of restricted data offenses under the atomic energy laws, 42 U.S.C. Secs. 2274 to 2276.
Section 783(e) of Title 50 provides that a prosecution for an offense under that section, part of the Subversive Activities Control Act, shall be instituted within ten years after the commission of the offense.
[cited in USAM 9-18.000]